Downsview Park: Imagine What This Could Be

downsview park
Downsview Park, in the NorthWest part of Toronto, is probably unknown to most of the city’s residents. It’s the former site of Canadian Forces Base Toronto (the airport it wraps around was the military airport, and is now used irregularly as a testing site by Bombardier Aerospace, the airplane manufacturer who co-owns the ‘airport’ with the Canadian government.

There have been weird projects hosted by the Crown Corporation that owns the 572 acre (232 ha) site, and grandiose, bafflegab plans for years to redevelop the ‘park’, which is occasionally used for special events (the Pope, the Rolling Stones), but which is now mostly just mowed and vacant. Famous architects and designers like Bruce Mau were brought in, but have since left, and today a new chairperson was announced for the park’s owner. The CBC has been asking listeners to call in and tell them what they think should be done with the site.

The site has a subway station right on its doorstep (at Allen Road and Sheppard Avenue W). It has one of the country’s largest shopping centres a mile (and one subway stop) away. It is two miles (and one future planned subway stop) from York University, Toronto’s second largest.

My answer is simple: Make Downsview Park a Model Car-Less Community. No roads (dig up the military roads on the property now). No parking lots. No garages. No cars allowed period.

And no non-renewable energy. Wind, solar, and geothermal power only. No gas lines. No connection to the grid, except for emergency purposes through a community non-profit Energy Co-op that would buy, sell and redistribute around the community the electricity it needed.

And a large co-operatively owned, permaculture-based organic garden. It’s a ‘park’ now, but nothing like the grassland it was in its natural state. Lots of green space (with walking and bicycle paths) should be part of the design, but that green space should all be native species. This has been done in other places in the Greater Toronto Area, and it’s beautiful and needs almost no maintenance (no watering, no cutting, just weeding out invasive species). The organic garden should blend in with that.

The entire site would be self-managed. The land would be leased to the community, which would self-select its members and agree upon certain principles of intentional community (no private ownership of any of the property, pledge to buy local, eat local, live simply, and develop a balance of workplaces and shops — owned by community members — and living spaces that minimize the need to travel, etc.) It sounds chaotic, but it works — principles of intentional communities are well-established.

The site is perfectly situated to accommodate this, and it could be a laboratory for the world after the End of Oil. This is a modest proposal, and hence it will probably be rejected by government owners who want something flashy, something that will bring in the tourists. I say fuck the tourists, fuck making this a ‘recreation destination’, a ‘set of integrated experiences’, and fuckthe ‘advanced sports complex’. Let’s make this a place where people can live when the reckless and unsustainable way we live now is no longer possible. And a modest showcase for what is possible.

What do you think? Help me flesh this idea out, and perhaps I can get the new chairperson to listen.

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10 Responses to Downsview Park: Imagine What This Could Be

  1. Totally dig the idea. What would it require to be put forth to the powers-that-be?

  2. David Parkinson says:

    I LOVE IT!!! We’re grappling with a similar opportunity here in Powell River (608 acres of land in the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve under threat of development into private gated housing complex, golf course, equestrian park, the whole armamentarium of elite comforts). A small committee of folks (including me) is trying to figure out how best to create a vision for the use of these lands that will be more sustainable and better for the community than this cockamamie sprawling nightmare vision. In fact, I’m just back in from meeting with these other folks to work on how to proceed. It’s a longshot, but there are signs that the time may soon be right to present a vision of sustainability and relocalization to the folks around here. One of our challenges is presenting enough of a vision of a possible better future to be engaging, but not so much as to be offputting; this is in many ways a very conservative place, so the public face of our campaign has to be cautious in some ways that I’m not always thrilled with.Doesn’t Toronto have plenty of groups of starry-eyed wackos willing to give this a go? Are you ready to be the spearhead??Imagine how cool it would be to have a living example of real progress, right in the heart of all the fake progress of North Toronto. Amazing.

  3. Evan says:

    I love the idea. I have always wanted to live in such a place. I only balk at your calling it a “Modest Proposal”. I didn’t like the last “Modest Proposal” I read.

  4. Vish Goda says:

    Good Concept.Here are some suggestions:1. You will need an enclosed/lamp lit or solar powered walkway/bike route that will connect all parts of the park or community – for continued mobility during winter/bad weather days. 2. Place mobile ( carted) street shops spread around these walkways – could be a open area/enclosed community center too – every 1000 yards or so – for people to gather and enjoy board games or soemthing like that.That would turn the park into a very active people filled place – I think.

  5. To make your proposal more palatable to the powers-that-be, you might consider trying to line up some potential media interest in the finished product. If they see that it could bring some positive media coverage to Toronto and boost the image of the city, they might be more willing to invest in it. Then it might serve as a model for other cities facing similar situations…

  6. Cory says:

    I think it’s a fantastic idea, and Toronto is a great place for this model community. It should be proposed soon while the glow from the Doors Open “green edition” is still palpable. I also hear rumours that the World Green Building Council is moving its headquarters to Toronto this summer: might be willing to collaborate on promoting a model green community. Green building administrators I spoke to at Doors Open last week all said that while green building technology is not rocket science, it is expensive only because enconomies of scale have not been developed yet to market the green materials and technologies. They also said it was difficult to get builders to deviate from their standard building procedures. A model green community could help make green building procedures more accessible.

  7. Tracy Puett says:

    William McDonough at may be very interested in supporting you on this. If you are not aware of their work, rather cutting edge, if a bit techie in their solutions.

  8. Pearl says:

    Sounds great.

  9. Jon Clement says:

    No other initiative would make Toronto look more progressive. Things to consider:The city would want to see a benefit to a diverse group of people. Keep doors/areas/participation open to everyone. With such a large area to work with – maybe sharing a corner with a enviro-friendly sports complex would bring in more interest. Can it be done without parking?The new waterfront park being developed at the end of the Don valley is already going to be a ‘state-of-the-art’ park for Toronto.Dave: Here’s the perfect opportunity for a collaborative proposal. How to best collect ideas, and comments? I recently came across a personal wiki site: potential?

  10. Thomas Ricci says:

    Hi, I am the president of the Downsview Lands Community Voice Association, and we have been watching and been an active community group in promoting the park to remain as a park since the early 1990s. Please support the cause and help support in stopping the development of the park into anything else other than a park.

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